The fear (and joy) of embracing a life in exile
The following is a guest post written by Mike Antonacci.
In October 2016, I went to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia. That’s a true statement. What’s not a true statement is “I saw the Pope.” You see, I, along with the group I walked over with, didn’t make it through the security line. Six hours in all, we didn’t make it in time for Mass to start, or even by the time Mass ended. We went to see the Pope but didn’t actually see him.
And as odd as it sounds, I wasn’t super mad about it. It was solidarity with refugees: standing in long lines, being turned away, being unwanted. For a brief moment and in a small way, my life was a taste of theirs.
What if I were actually in exile? Whether war, disease, economic collapse, persecution, or the like, what would it be like to physically be exiled from America? How would I live? How would I feel? Would I long for home and try to recreate it as much as possible in my new land? Or would I fully embrace their customs and become mostly like them? Would I adapt quickly, or slowly? Would their language be hard to learn? Would I seek out fellow exiles for the sake of community?
All big questions. As I thought about it, I’d probably keep the essentials from home but embrace the new culture as much as I could. I’d for sure seek out fellow exiles, solidarity and support would keep me from getting overwhelmed or losing my identity. And if we were journeying towards home, I’d need their presence and company.
The whole Christian life is like that: our true homeland is heaven, and no matter what country we find ourselves in, we’re exiles journeying home. We need each other on the journey, and we need to find others who are lost and help them come along with us. We can’t let ourselves view our transient place as a permanent place to stay. We can’t lose the customs of our true home, but we can and should be great (though transient) citizens. If I were physically in exile, I’d live differently. Why am I not living that way right now?
There’s a second-century Christian writing called the Letter to Diognetus that talks about how the early Christians saw themselves as exiles, as pilgrims.
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. … With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in…
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.”
The letter concludes with a poetic comparison: the soul animates and holds the body together, and so too does the Christian do that for the world. As the soul is to the body, that is the Christian for the world. That letter was a punch in the face for me. If that’s how the early Christians lived, why do I not live that way?
So let’s embrace our transience. Let’s find our fellow exiles and bring them along. Let’s all head to our true home.
Mike Antonacci is a blogger who focuses on helping people become the hero God is calling them to be. And, he’s giving away a free ebook to help you as an exile on your journey home. Click here to learn more.